Research | Publications | Lab Members
Michael T. Berton, Ph.D.
Room 4.037V Tel: (210) 567-3931Fax: (210) 567-6428Email:
Keywords: Cytokine and Toll-like receptor signaling; immunity to infection; Francisella tularensis
My laboratory is interested in the molecular and cell biology of host cell signaling pathways that regulate innate and adaptive immune responses, and in the mechanisms that pathogens use to manipulate and evade host immunity. We are currently studying the role of Toll-like receptor (TLR) signaling in the immune response to the intracellular bacterial pathogen, Francisella tularensis. F. tularensis is a Gram-negative, facultative, intracellular bacterial pathogen that causes the disease tularemia. F. tularensis type A and B strains have been classified as Tier 1 biodefense agents because of their high infectivity, extreme virulence, and ability to be disseminated by aerosol, yet there is no licensed vaccine for this highly virulent pathogen. A critical Francisella virulence trait is its ability to suppress the innate and adaptive immune responses, but little is known about the mechanisms underlying this suppression. The innate immune response to pathogens is initiated when the host is alerted to infection as a result of recognition of pathogen-derived molecules by pattern recognition receptors (PRRs), such as the Toll-like receptors (TLRs), that recognize and bind to conserved molecular motifs expressed by many pathogens. The TLRs are evolutionarily conserved, germline-encoded receptors that signal many cell types via a set of cytoplasmic signaling adaptors that lead to MAP kinase and NF-κB activation. Binding of TLRs to pathogen-derived molecules induces the expression of chemokines and pro-inflammatory cytokines by many different cell types, and upregulates the expression of MHC and co-stimulatory molecules on antigen-presenting cells required for the activation of T cells. Current studies in the lab are focused on identifying the role that TLR signaling plays in the host protective response against F. tularensis infection and on the mechanisms used by F. tularensis to evade or suppress those responses in a mouse model of pulmonary tularemia. Our expectation is that these studies will identify critical immune signaling pathways and mechanisms of immune evasion that must be considered in the development of a safe and effective F. tularensis vaccine
Lab Rooms: 4.029V, 4.033V, 4.037V